Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Puerto Montt (another bureaucratic challenge)

[Kyle]Our first task in Puerto Montt was to try to get some Chilean Pesos. This turned out to be a fruitless all-day kerfuffle because, you know, banks. As usual, we go through the whole process of notifying them of our upcoming travels every time we leave so they won't lock our cards. The bank where we have our checking told us when we left New Zealand that it was too early to tell them about Chile and to notify them closer to our arrival. No matter how many times we told them that we were about to step onto the boat and leave for Chile right now, they didn't seem to get it. {Maryanne: Actually what happened is I sent them the standard secure message with our dates and details, and while we were at sea, they replied saying its too early to tell us now, message us again nearer the time. Of course I never got that message since I was at sea, nor even for a few days after we arrived... Ahh, the logic!}

Officially in Chile at last
Sunshine and sea lions keep us smiling

No one at the marina could remember their wifi code and the one person that knew it wasn't there just then. With no pesos, we walked into town hoping our card might work anyway. When we got there, we couldn't find a bank or an ATM anywhere. I didn't get it. In Ushuaia, which I was kind of expecting Puerto Montt to resemble, there were banks everywhere. None of them had any cash, but they were there.

Puerto Montt instead has miles and miles of stores selling beautifully knit clothing of all types made of sheep and alpaca wool, none of which was interrupted by even a single ATM. Eventually, we asked a guy who made the mistake of making eye contact with us and he told us there were ATMs at the bus station. Great! On to the bus station.

Along the way, we passed the Armada (Navy) offices. I thought it was a little strange that we hadn't heard from them during all the visits from the officials, considering their permission was required for all of Begonia's movements, but the marina had assured us we'd had all the visitors we should expect, and SAG had told us we were OK to put up our flag now. We needed to submit a request for our entire time in the country and were effectively stuck in Puerto Montt until our departure was authorized. I persuaded Maryanne to pop in with me to check. After some waiting and a few different tries finding the right person, we were told to go back to the boat. They would meet us there in an hour. It had taken us more than that long to get there from the boat, so Maryanne negotiated two.

Now we were in a rush. We went to the bus station to find an ATM which promptly rejected our card. We went to an internet cafe to try to call our bank, but were told they only had hard lines and not wifi. After a bit of back and forth, we determined the restaurant had wifi for customers. We were getting hungry anyway, so that seemed like a plan. Only after ordering our food did we discover that the signal was not good enough to sustain a Skype call. Maryanne got disconnected over and over just as it seemed the problem was going to get fixed. Great! Now we still had no cash, we had used one of our working credit cards to pay for an overpriced and uninspiring introduction to Chilean cuisine and we were running really low on time. {Maryanne: to be fair we weren't expecting much from a bus station, but we did get to enjoy our first of the Chilean classic, a pisco sour!}

At the taxi stand, we found a guy who would take credit cards and piled into his cab for a ride back to the marina. He was entertaining and on the way, we had fun practicing our Spanish. He noticed Maryanne's accent was different from mine and told her she had a very good Castillian accent, which he proclaimed better than the locals, who he said didn't pay enough attention to pronunciation.

Back at Begonia, the appointed time came and went. After another hour passed, I went to the marina office to ask if they wouldn't mind calling the Armada. They said there was no point. It was too late and if they hadn't shown up yet, it would be tomorrow – maybe. Auugh! At least we were able to get a working wifi code from them.

The Armada showed up just as I got back to the boat. There were four of them, although only one came aboard. She was very nice and after copying our passport numbers and Begonia's documentation number off of the originals, she said she was done. It seemed like nothing we couldn't have done back when we were in town, but hey, that's their process, and it seemed we truly were now 'officially' in the country.

Still with no cash for the bus, we walked into town the next day with the hope of squeezing in a little tourism before our SAG hearing. Despite assurances from our bank, our first two ATMs would give us nothing, so we were forced to look at all of the nice tourist goodies without partaking. Just before we got to the SAG office, which was about as far on the other side of the town center as the marina, we found a big shopping complex where we had just enough time to buy sim cards so we could have our own data. While Maryanne was setting everything up, I found an ATM that worked! Woo hoo! Now we could afford the luxury of a bus ride home.

At the SAG office, we found the front door locked. After a bit of waiting around hoping to be seen, Maryanne snuck in through the guard booth by stepping over the German Shepard blocking the door. Rather than scold her for her unauthorized entrance, the guy who wrote my citation acted like we should have known that was the way in. Our “hearing” was nothing more than my presenting my apology to a woman at a desk behind a window.

That's what it should have been anyway, but I was with Maryanne, who decided to hit them with both barrels. In addition to my two-sentence apology letter, Maryanne had prepared a lengthy document (sometimes called a Maryanne-ifesto) detailing the results of her extensive research on the subject, presented in English and Spanish and including as attachments all relevant source data and support documentation.

It turns out the rule I had been cited for violating did not apply to us. Only vessels that had been in certain areas of Asia and adjacent islands during a specific invasive moth's egg-laying season were required to make the report. We had not and so were not. Furthermore, none of the information that was supposed to be made available to the public was accessible because of a number of broken links on various government websites, therefore there is no possible way a vessel entering Chile for the first time could possibly know of the rule in advance, etc., etc., etc.

The guy suppressed a chuckle. ”What's the big deal? Just give her the letter. There's no fine, no punishment, no nothing.”

It was a big deal to Maryanne, and she didn't want to set a precedent leaving future boaters to similar citations, she really wanted the agent to see he'd simply made a mistake. She goes to great effort to make sure that all of our paperwork is submitted properly and is justifiably proud of being well-prepared and law-abiding. A mark on my record, no matter how minor, she takes personally. She didn't want to hand over the letter until he read everything she had produced and told her either where within it or anywhere else the correct information could be found. He kept responding with, “It's just the rule.”, which was maddeningly unsatisfying. When she pushed harder, he basically said that's what they taught him, so that's what he knows. He did not seem interested in researching anything that could potentially modify his stance. I could see tears of frustration beginning to well up in her eyes and decided to put us all out of our misery by handing over the letter. On the copy they had me sign, the woman at the desk had added 'He couldn't know. Our website is broken'. Then they spelled my name wrong so I can always say it must've been that other guy.

I spent the next day on the boat fixing some of the stuff that had bugged us on the passage while Maryanne went into town to get our sewing machine repaired. It turned out to be a two-day job, so I went into town with her to pick it up. We finally got to partake at the markets. We had little chocolates and stocked up on smoked fish and some produce. Maryanne got a nice scarf and we each got some wonderful wool socks with a lovely thick layer of raw wool lining on the inside. If my feet ever get cold again, it's my own damn fault. We picked up the sewing machine, which runs like a top and lugged into a local pub, where we took our time over a much better meal than our previous.

We had a tough time getting in that pub. When we arrived, we found the place packed (great sign) but the door was locked. We waited for a bit and then a stern looking man who looked like a cross between Forrest Gump and Sergeant Carter opened the door, pushed us aside to let some people out and locked it up again. The second time he did this, we asked him if we could enter. At first, it seemed like he might be saying there was a private party going on, but on examination, it just turned out they were full. Maryanne pointed out that two parties had just left and he grudgingly let us in. I took a little time observing him from our table and was eventually able to deduce that he was the Manager. When the restaurant started to empty out, he would unlock the doors and let people come and go freely. When it got busy, rather than telling people it might be twenty minutes and asking them to wait outside, he just locks everybody out while they cup their hands over their eyes and try to peer into the windows to see if there's anybody inside. The food really was worth it though, and we could take our time with all our chores completed and cash for a bus home.

We had another day of boat jobs before it was time to go into town to buy provisions for the next month. On the way, we stopped at the Armada offices to apply for our zarpe (approval document for our sailing itinerary). This would give us permission to operate in their waters. We optimistically applied for a single zarpe for our entire Chilean plans. I figured they would never go for it and we would get sent away to ask for less. There was a lot of taking our sheaf of papers into the back office only to be brought back by a different person. There would then be whispering to a third person, who would disappear to continue the process. Oh, Man! We have opened up a can of worms. We are in so much trouble!

At length, a nice young man in dress whites appeared, opened our folder and started inputting the information into the computer, occasionally asking me to clarify one point or another. After a very long while, he printed our zarpe and then went off to look for a stamp. The Armada loves their stamps. I snuck a look at it and noticed an error. Our fuel quantity said 1200 liters instead of 200. When he got back, I asked him to correct it.

Conducted in Spanish...

“Oh, okay. Two thousand.”

“No. Two hundred.”

“Twelve hundred?”

“Two hundred.”

“Two thousand?

“No. Two HUNDRED.”

“Twelve hundred? No!”

I wrote it down.

“Oh! Two Thousand!”

We eventually came to agree 200L

It turns out they don't get a lot of sailboats. When I finally did get the point across, he seemed genuinely impressed that we could go six hundred miles on so little fuel.

When he tried to print the corrected zarpe, the printer jammed and he had to spend ten minutes disassembling and reassembling it. When he finally got it, he ALMOST gave it to me. It passed between my fingers, but before I could close my grip, he took it back. He just realized we needed to pay our navigation fees first. So close...

Maryanne went off to do that. She was at the cashier a really long time. After a while more and more people showed up. There definitely seemed to be a problem. I tried to listen in without leaving my spot in front of the zarpe guy, but all I could get was that there was some kind of problem with our paperwork. Uh, oh.

Maryanne eventually came over and explained that our gross tonnage was listed in their system as fifty-one, rather than the twelve on our Coast Guard Documentation. There is a whole new category of fees and regulations above fifty. We would have to have a pilot on board at all times at our expense. (Yes, I know, but I'm pretty sure they would have failed to see the humor)

Maryanne produced all of the evidence we had, but they would not believe her. They told her they could not change it in their system and we would have to hire a naval architect to determine Begonia's tonnage.

{Maryanne: I've no idea how their system ended up with an incorrect value. I'm not sure where that value originated from. As I looked over on the computer screen showing Begonia's record, there was all sorts of information that we hadn't given them – for example they had a picture of Begonia that we'd recently posted on MarineTraffic.com and I started to wonder if somehow the boat tonnage was incorrect there – it wasn't. No matter how many times I showed our official USA registration paperwork listing Begonia as 12 tons, they just wouldn't accept it. I was beginning to think that they didn't have the authority to make the correction even if they believed me.}

We called the guy they suggested and he mercifully agreed to drive down and meet us at the Armada offices in a few minutes. He took one look at the picture the Armada had of Begonia and said there was NO WAY we could possibly weigh fifty one tons unless she were solid concrete. He asked for our documentation and took it over to show them – the same forms we had produced. They ALMOST believed him, but then fell back on the argument that their system could not possibly be wrong. He then started googling catamarans to show the difference was an order of magnitude. Again, he ALMOST got the ball over the net, but then they started asking for the rest of the data on the boat to prove it was less than fifty tons.

What data? It turns out that all boats over fifty tons have to have an extensive data sheet that includes all kinds of measurements and stability calculations. With all of our data, they could prove that we were not in the category that required us to have the data and we would be allowed to be less than fifty tons. That's why we needed a naval architect, to work out the data that we needed so that we could prove we didn't need it.

Well that's a real forehead slapper!

Our guy tried one last tack, which basically amounted to “You have GOT to be kidding me! I am not going to all of the trouble of extensive tests and measurements to prove a sailboat weighs less than a bridge abutment.”

That one gained some traction, but they still weren't buying it. They wanted to see the official document again. “Oh, it still says twelve tons. We'll fix it.”

{Maryanne: Amazingly the measurement agent we'd contacted refused any payment from us, stating clearly that the Armada had made the mistake and he couldn't possibly charge us for having them correct it.}

We were then told to take seats, as this was going to take a while. Every few minutes, someone we would recognize, which at this point was pretty much everybody, would come over, apologize and tell us it would be just a few more minutes. Finally, the nice young man in the dress whites came over, printed our zarpe, stamped it enough to make sure it was properly tenderized and handed it over to us with a proud smile. I made sure to grip quickly.

We were just about to put it into the backpack when Maryanne noticed an error. It said her passport was issued in the United States, but the copy she had provided them was of her British one. {Maryanne: Since we have the option, I think it is prudent to enter a new country with two different passports, Kyle with his USA and me with my UK, as it gives us two possible embassies to contact in the event of any issues}. The crestfallen look that washed over his poor face was as if the very last scoop of ice cream in the whole town had just fallen off of his cone and landed on his newly polished shoes. His darting eyes seemed to be searching through his memory for what he had done to deserve this. He fixed the error and printed a new one, but I could tell by the way he stamped that his heart just wasn't in it anymore. He handed it over as if the weight of it was just too much to bear.

I yanked it away with thanks and a supersonic snap and we were outta there! We can now go sailing in Chile!

After that, our dreaded late evening trip to the store to buy a mountain of provisions seemed like a pleasant diversion. Maryanne did most of it, as usual, while she sent me off on a series of wild goose chases to keep me out of her hair. My list was smaller but each item was critical to the success of the enterprise. You try crossing an ocean without two-sided forks or mushroom tape!

A walk in the other direction to a lovely restaurant: Kiel

After we got everything stowed, we gave Begonia and ourselves a good scrub and tidy and then headed off on the long walk to a fancy restaurant a couple on one of the nearby boats had recommended highly (as did the Yelp app). The walk turned out to be a bit of an ordeal, a bit too long and a little too close to some fast moving traffic on some sharp bends. I'll spend eight bucks on a beer, but I'll be damned if I'm forking over TWO-way bus fare. The restaurant, Kiel, was indeed very nice. It was on grounds bristling with flowers and had the well lived in look that made it feel like half steamship, half Irish pub. Inside, they had a bridge over a river made of old wine bottles, and multiple open fireplaces full of chopped wood. It was bursting with character. Our waiter was an old man of adorable stature and effervescence who never seemed to tire of carrying on in Spanish until we finally figured out what he was saying. We expected the food to be as amazing as the rest, but it was fairly basic by comparison.

The only real glitch in the evening came when Frank Sinatra's “Summer Wind” came over the sound system. Maryanne knew something was up when my chin started quivering. It's not what you think. That damn song was the hold music on the airline Crew Scheduling phone lines for years. Listening to it invariably meant my day was about to get a lot harder, I wasn't going to make it home this weekend, or my vacation was cancelled. I tried to remind myself that I was here, where they couldn't get to me, but in my mind, I was there. Fortunately, the song wasn't on an endless loop, so the feeling passed quickly.

We returned to the marina to spend the balance of the evening with our new friends Alejandro and Ledda, two engineers who had just finished restoring their wooden boat. It is absolutely gorgeous inside and out, with lots of shiny varnish and polished brass details. There's nothing like a wooden boat to make a fiberglass catamaran seem maintenance free. They are NOT allowed to see our boat with all her tatty areas.

A lovely photo from a lovely evening
Photo by Alejandro aboard Ledda

They were only a couple of days from taking their captain's examinations and were looking forward to finally being given permission from the Armada to properly enjoy their boat (in Chile, everyone requires a license before they can be granted permission to leave port – visiting foreign boats get a pass on that rule). They spread out their charts for us and gave us lots of advice on where was good to go. We had fun practising our Spanish on them and they were very patient with us. It helps to not have the rush of people waiting in line behind you while you try to be understood. One amusing thing was something Maryanne had been saying incorrectly. The word for boat in Spanish is barco. In Italian, which she learned first, it's barcA. It's a hard habit to break. I keep doing it too. The thing is, since Maryanne has an English accent, she doesn't really pronounce her Rs. {Maryanne: I do too! At least I hear it in my head as I speak - that's the same thing right?}. None of them do. Bar sounds like ba, star sounds like sta, etc. She has been telling people she lives on a boat – Vivo en barco, but instead, she keeps substituting the Italian and saying:Vivo en barca.: Since Vs are pronounced like Bs in Spanish and with her accent, it comes out as: Vivo en vaca – I live in a cow.

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